— In double-barreled blockbuster, the UFC announced on Tuesday that they have signed former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, and that he will make his octagon debut against returning former UFC champion Brock Lesnar.
The heavyweight bout will take place at UFC 141 on Dec. 30 in a rare Friday night event to be held in Las Vegas, and the victor is expected to fight for the UFC championship against the winner of November’s Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos fight.
The announcement also brings to a close two of MMA’s biggest open-ended questions: 1) What is next for Overeem after being released by Strikeforce? And, 2) When will Lesnar return?
The answer for both came faster than expected. Overeem was dropped by Strikeforce in late July after the promotion’s parent company Zuffa said they could no longer work with Overeem’s Golden Glory management team due to differences in business philosophies related to contract payments. Soon afterwards though, both Golden Glory and Overeem said they were willing to follow Zuffa’s practices, and negotiations quickly restarted.
The only question since then was whether Overeem would return to Strikeforce or move along to the UFC, but it was clear from the outset that he preferred the larger organization, and the UFC obliged him. According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Overeem signed an exclusive deal with UFC, meaning his K-1 kickboxing career will be halted for the foreseeable future.
Overeem was offered a chance to face the Velasquez-dos Santos winner right out of the gate, but instead of waiting for a winner to emerge, he asked for a more immediate bout.
Among the names that was eventually offered was Lesnar. In recent weeks, UFC president Dana White had said Lesnar was hoping to return around the beginning of 2012, but other reports had suggested that doctors had told him to retire. It turns out those reports were false, and White’s original estimation proved to be conservative.
Lesnar has been on the sidelines since October 2010, when he lost his title to Velasquez in a first-round TKO. Afterward, he coached a season of The Ultimate Fighter, but pulled out of a planned bout with dos Santos after a recurrence of diverticulitis. By the time he returns, he will have gone 14 months between fights.
Stepping in against Overeem will be no easy first step back. Though he is not nearly as well known as Lesnar, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Overeem is nearly as physically imposing as Lesnar, and he also boasts an impressive resume. During a 12-year MMA career, the 31-year-old Overeem has captured heavyweight titles in both Strikeforce and DREAM, and holds career wins over major names including Vitor Belfort and Fabricio Werdum. In 2010, Overeem entered the K-1 World Grand Prix, a competition that featured most of the world’s best kickboxers, and won the tournament by winning three fights in one night.
Overeem is 35-11 with one no contest in his MMA career, but hasn’t lost since a September 2007 knockout at the hands of Sergei Kharitonov. Since then, he’s gone unbeaten in 11 straight.
Lesnar, meanwhile, is 5-2.
Overeem-Lesnar will be one of the first major events in years to take place on a Friday. The UFC decided to move the pay-per-view up a day from its usual Saturday spot due to New Year’s Eve falling on a Saturday this year.